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Vuelta a España 2011: Stage 16

Another flat stage gives the remaining sprinters a chance to strut their stuff after all that climbing. Or will an escape group spoil their plans and stay away to the end?

It is flat today! Well, relatively. No ranked climbs at any rate! We trust that the sprinters rested up and recovered well, and are ready to turn on the speed in Haro after 203.6 km!

96km remaining from 180km

Here's what is happening: Julien Fouchard (Cofidis),  Jesus Rosendo and Antonio Cabello (both Andalucia – Caja Granada) have a gap of 6:08 on the field.

90km remaining from 180km

The temperatures are climbing and the peloton is slowing.  The gap is now back up to 7:46.

The trio got away early, and do we mean early, like within the first kilometer of the stage. The gap got up to 8:34 after 41 km and came down for a while, but is going back up now.

Happy birthday to Yohan Bagot of Cofidis, who turns 24 today. His dad was also a pro, riding from  1983 to 1996.

The last rider to sign in today was Fabian Cancellara of Leopard Trek. This was also be his last stage, as he tweeted this morning that he will abandon the race this evening, and start gettng ready for the Worlds, coming up in less than two weeks now.

Cabello is only 21 years old and has the great advantage that his dad, also named Antonio, is the team manager.

69km remaining from 180km

The gap is still over seven minutes.  Liquigas, Lampre and Geox are leading the chase.

Of course the biggest news on the rest day was the formation of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek for the coming season, a merger of RadioShack and Leopard Trek.  Not a lot of details were announced – if any – so it will be interesting to see how things develop.

We have had the first intermediate sprint, which Cabello won ahead of Rosendo, with Fouchard third.

Just a reminder, our top ten coming into this stage:

Eek, that format didn't work out too well, did it? Sorry about that....

The points leader is Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha, with 90 points. Second is Rabobank's Bauke Mollema, with Peter Sagan of Liquigas in third.

We won't have any change in the mountain ranking today, and in fact we can probably go ahead and declare our final winner. David Moncoutie (Cofidis) leads the race there, followed rather distantly by Matteo Montaguti (AG2R) and Daniel Moreno (Katusha).
 

Cobo now leads the combination ranking, with Mollema second and Moreno third.

To finish off the rankings, Geox leads, with Leopard Trek second and Euskaltel third.
 

Now here's an interesting tidbit of information: If the Vuelta ended today, the podium would  consist of first timers. The last this this happened in the Vuelta was in 1995, when the podium was Laurent Jalabert, Abraham Olano and Johan Bruyneel. Coincidentally, Jalabert and Bruyneel never made another grand tour podium.
 

In case you were wondering whether any of these riders are a threat to GC: they aren't.  Rosendo is the highest ranked, and he is over two hours down.

63km remaining from 180km

The gap has come down to just about 4 minutes now.

The Pro Tour Team with the longest win drought in the Vuelta is AG2R. The last time they won a stage was the 19th stage of the 2006 race. That year, Jose Luis Arrieta won the stage finishing in Ciudad Real. Their best chance at a victory today would be Lloyd Mondory.

Another team with a long drought would be the Astana team. The last time they won a stage was the final TT of the 2008 Vuelta, won by Levi Leipheimer. They are looking to Enrico Gasparotto as their best chance to win today.

There has been a bunch of transfers lately, and as they say, you can't tell the players without a programme.  Check out our transfer list to find out who is going where.

57km remaining from 180km

The gap is creeping back up, now at 4:27. Lampre is leading the pack, and the sun is shining and we have a beautiful blue sky.

Alessandro Petacchi was welcomed by the speaker at the sign-in as the favourite of the day.  Asked to comment about that, he smiled and agreed. “I’ve passed the mountain stages and the rest day with a good motivation,” he said. “It’s fair for me try and win today. I don’t have anyone to lead me out but my team will work earlier to get a bunch sprint finish.”
 

Lampre's Spezialetti has crashed and gives every impression of having broken his right collarbone.

Leigh Howard is the alternative to John Degenkolb at HTC-Highroad for a bunch sprint finish. “Hopefully I’m a sprinter today”, said the Australian who sometimes work as a lead out man. “We have set a plan before the start but we’ll talk to each other and we’ll decide on the road what we’ll do. On stage 12, I led John out and it worked all right, he finished second. On stage 7, he led me out. We’re honest to each other. Today it might be a sprint for me and there’ll the last one in Madrid, possibly for him, we’ll see…”
 

Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek): “In the last sprint on stage 12, I opened from too far out and Sagan was the strongest. I hope that I’ll be stronger than him today. The finish is more adapted to my characteristics. I’m the specialist of the last week and the last stage of Grand Tours, as I’ve already won at the Tour in Paris and at the Vuelta in Madrid. It’s a pity that there are only two sprints left.”

LLL leading the peloton:  Lampre, Leopard and Liquigas....

Juan José Haedo: “I have big hopes for today. I survived the mountains for today’s stage. My condition is good. Today’s finish is a much better one for me than the previous ones.” Saxo Bank-SunGard’s team manager Bjarne Riis has now arrived at the Vuelta.
 

Cancellara is leading the peloton.  The gap has fallen to 3:20.  Coincidence?  We think not....

79 km/h!  They are flying!

There are eight teams who still have all their riders in the race.  BMC and HTC are the hardest hit, each now down to six riders.

38km remaining from 180km

The gap is really dropping rapidly.  It is now 2:25.

Many stretches of the course are newly-re-asphalted roads.  The road at the moment is not one of those.

One sprinter who won't be going for the win today is Tom Boonen (QuickStep).  The Belgian will instead be having his broken hand examined, and hoping for a miracle which will allow him to start the World Championships. 

Garmin-Cervelo jumps into the lead work. Hoping to set up a sprint for Heinrich Haussler?

With the gap down under two minutes, Rosendo takes off on his own.

20km remaining from 180km

Only 20km left for Rosendo, with the others not all that far behind him. 1:07, to be exact.

Peter Sagan (Liquigas): “In every type of sprint, I take my chance but I can’t promise that I’ll win again, we’ll see…”

Geoffroy Lequatre: “I confirm that I’m one of the riders from RadioShack that Johan Bruyneel wants to get rid of at the end of the season. I’ll have a few stressful weeks ahead. Team managers will wait for the end of October to make offers at very low salary and we’ll accept it rather than quit cycling.”

A large crash, and it looks like Rodriguez is involved.  Is everyone getting up?

A Saxo Bank rider appears to be injured.

Rodriguez is back on his bike.  The Saxo Bank rider is Majka.  Not sure right now whether he will be able to continue or not.

Rodriguez is riding but extremely slowly. He appears in fact to have injured his left arm.  He has no teammates with him and in fact the team car has just gone on by him.

Now he pays a visit to the race doctor who examines his lower back and left wrist.

Rosendo is grimly hanging on to a mere 13 second lead.

Rodriguez now has a teammate with him.

That's it for Rosendo --- the break is over!

Now two teammates with Rodriguez, who is definitely not looking real perky.

9km remaining from 180km

Nine km and a third teammate with Rodriguez.

A Cofidis rider takes off.....

8km remaining from 180km

It is Fouchard, but he doesn't really get away.

Giuseppe Martinelli, DS of Astana: “Kessiakoff got food poisoning on Friday night. Everything collapsed for him. We yet have to win a stage and if we don’t get it, this Vuelta will have been a disaster for our team.”

6km remaining from 180km

Six km to go, and the whole peloton is together.  Although we doubt that Rodriguez and buddies have caught up with them.

We had another sprint, and the points went to De La Fuente, Haussler and Froome. So Froome picks up two seconds leader Cobo!

HTC-Highroad in the lead now.  Will they be riding for Degenkolb or Howard today?

Rodriguez is indeed not back in the pack.  In fact, he is 5:20 back.

3km remaining from 180km

Three km, and the non-sprinters can relax now.

Leopard Trek in the lead now, with Cancellara second.....

We now have a group of 30 or so who will go for the sprint.  The rest have dropped back to stay out of the way and out of trouble.

Ok, maybe it's a bit more than 30 riders.... but definitely not the whole peloton.

Last km!

500 meters....

A traffic circle cause great problems with no one knowing which way to go.  Haedo of Saxo Bank chooses the right path and cruises easily to the win.

Very strange finish!  Evidently the correct path was not clearly marked.  Sagan visibly wavered for a few seconds as to whether to go left or right.

Aha.  AS they entered the circle, they could go left or right.  They were supposed to go left, but the right-hand way was left open to let the cars go through.

However, it was not apparently in any way marked as to where to go, and several riders chose the wrong way. 

Second was Petacchi, with Bennati third. 

Haedo confirms that it was not made totally clear to the riders which way to go at that traffic circle, and he is glad to have picked the right way.

Interesting:  Cobo finished tenth on the stage.

Four Katusha riders now approach the finish line, with of course Rodriguez with them.  He crosses the line 11:02 down.  No doubt he will be busy with the medics tonight.

Here is our top ten on the day:

1 Juan José Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank Sungard
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
3 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Leopard Trek
4 Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto
5 Leigh Howard (Aus) HTC-Highroad
6 Koen De Kort (Ned) Skil - Shimano
7 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
8 Nikolas Maes (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team
9 Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky Procycling
10 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC

And the (unofficial) top ten in GC:

1 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC   64:39:14
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling   0:00:20
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling   0:00:51
4 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team   0:01:41
5 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek   0:02:42
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC   0:03:06
7 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek   0:03:08
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale   0:03:49
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto   0:04:03
10 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team   0:04:18
 

This was a day for the Juan Joses: Juan Jose Haedo won the stage, and Juan Jose Cobo dons the red jersey as race leader again.

Now wasn't that an, um, interesting finale today?

Thanks for reading along and join us again tomorrow as we plod along towards Madrid on Sunday.

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